[flickr float="left"]http://www.flickr.com/photos/timlaytonsr/6443035949/[/flickr]Before we get into scanning your film negative you should think about creating the best possible image for your print. Keep in mind that you could use a digital RAW file for the digital negative process as well, but that is a different method and approach that I will not be covering in this article.
Composing and exposing a technically correct image is the foundation for a good print independent of your printing method so make sure you make this your first priority. Since we are creating digital negatives from your scanned film, the first rule is to always work in 16-bit mode. This means you should work in 16-bit mode from capture to print. Even if you don’t know what that means just know to work in 16-bit vs. 8-bit mode. You will get the best possible image because you won’t be clipping your tonal values (highlights or shadows).
If you are using a digital camera then make sure you capture in RAW mode. If you can’t capture in RAW mode in your camera, then use a different camera.
You will need to convert your scanned TIFF image to black and white if you are using a color negative. In Photoshop CS5 and beyond there is a black and white conversion tool that you should use. Don’t just desaturate your color image to make it monochrome because that is the worst possible scenario form a quality perspective. You lose all the luminosity in your image. If you are using a black and white negative, then no worries.
If you are a traditional film photographer there are clear advantages to scanning in your negatives and in particular your large format sheet film negatives. I personally use 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 large format view cameras and I have found that I use my 4×5 camera the majority of the time if I know ahead of time that I will be creating large digital negatives for my printing process. One of the biggest advantages of a large format camera for me personally is the ability to control the film plane movements. Next, I prefer the ability to study and view the scene on the large ground glass and the shadow detail and tonal gradation that I am able to achieve with film is unparalleled at this time. Another key reason for my choice of film is I prefer the look of my prints when captured with film versus digital. The 4×5 camera is small, lightweight and gives me all of the advantages of large format photography. In the cases where I know I will be scanning my negatives anyway, the 4×5 field camera is an easy choice. I have a small field camera that weighs less than most modern professional DSLR bodies by a couple pounds or more.
In regards to cost versus quality a person could purchase a complete 4×5 large format camera system and many years worth of film as well as a high end professional flatbed scanner such as the Epson V750 and still have many thousands of dollars to spare in addition to ending up with a system that produces superior images for black and white fine art prints in my opinion. A huge benefit in my mind is that your large format camera system will last your lifetime and will never need to be updated ever again. I also believe film is by far the most archival and easily retrievable medium photography has ever invented. If large format wasn’t an option for you then you could buy a medium format camera and standard lens for pennies on the dollar of its original cost and end up with a camera and tool that will last you a lifetime. These are just my opinions and I am sure I could find people using a DSLR to make digital negatives that create beautiful prints. That approach isn’t for me, but I don’t claim my process is superior to anything else. It is just simply how I prefer to work and fits into my creative vision.
Scanning Film for Digital Negatives
If you are going to scan your large or medium format film to make digital negatives then you should do the following:
- Pre-scan the negative then turn off every automatic option possible. This means no sharpening, automatic setting of black and white points, contrast, etc.
- Set the scanner to 16-bit and DO NOT use 16-bit HDR mode.
- You want to use the highest native resolution possible for your scanner. I have found for the Epson V750 it is 2400 dpi.
- Open the histogram in your scanning software and manually set the black and white points so they are included and leave the middle slider along and on 0.
- Scan and save the image to a 16-bit TIFF file.
Basic Edits for Scanned Images
Open the 16-bit TIFF file in Photoshop and consider the following basic edits as a starting place.
Create a new Levels adjustment layer and call it B&W Points. Simply set your black and white points so no clipping occurs in your image as you did in the scanner, but you will want to move the black point just a few pixels to the right and the white pixels just a few to the left.
Create another new Levels adjustment layer and call it “Brightness”. You will now adjust the center slider to adjust the overall brightness to your liking. Technically you could do this on the first Levels adjustment layer, so that is up to you if you want to split it out or not.
Create a new Curves adjustment layer and call it “Contrast”. You will want to click on the curve and create three points for shadows, midtones and highlights. First, click towards the bottom third of the line to set a shadow point. Drag that down a little bit to decrease the contrast in your shadows. Second click towards the top one-third of the curve and drag it up a little bit. Third, place a point near the middle and drag it down a little bit to produce the S-curve shape.
I hope this information is helpful in getting you pointed in the right direction for your digital negatives. After exposing and developing your film and now scanning it, you are well on your way to preparing to make a digital negative. Independent of your film and Photoshop work, you need to make sure to determine your base exposure time before you get too far and before we can create the digital negative on Pictorico OHP film. You may want to read my article on the introduction of digital negatives, if you haven’t already read it.
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